Considering Race in Admissions — Here We Go Again

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will again hear arguments in the case of Fisher v. the University of Texas that examines the use of race in admissions in higher education.

The case was ostensibly brought by Abigail Fisher, a white student whom UT rejected in 2008, but Fisher was recruited to sue the university by Edward Blum, who is fighting similar legal battles. Fisher has graduated from college and reportedly works in finance.

This case isn’t about Fisher—it’s an attempt to scrub any consideration of race from admissions policies in higher education.

In the New York Times, an op-ed by Rutgers law professor and civil rights expert Elise Boddie, excerpted below, makes the case for preserving UT’s admissions policies. Although I disagree with Boddie when she says that the use of race as a consideration is a “preference”–it is a factor that can be weighed in the admissions process, just as other factors, such as speaking English as another language or coming from a single-parent home, are weighed–her piece sheds light on the larger issue: considerations of race do not guarantee admission to UT.

Boddie states: “Although one African American and four Latino applicants with lower combined academic and personal achievement scores than Ms. Fisher’s were provisionally admitted, so were 42 white applicants whose scores were identical to or lower than hers. Similarly, 168 black and Latino students with academic and personal achievement profiles that were as good as, or better than, Ms. Fisher’s were also denied, according to the university.”

Race is a factor; not the deciding factor. UT’s current freshman class is only 4.5% black and 22% Hispanic, so using race as a factor doesn’t appear to lead to large numbers of black and brown students at the school, and why can’t UT decide its own admissions policies? The suit nearly borders on being frivolous, yet the fact that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case again and that Elena Kagan; a liberal justice, will again recuse herself because of work she’d done on this same case before she was appointed to the Supreme Court is, for some people, cause for concern.

Here’s the excerpt:

Amid protests over racial discrimination on college campuses, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for a second time Wednesday in Fisher v. University of Texas. The case revolves around the question of whether the university’s modest consideration of an applicant’s race as part of a comprehensive admissions process is constitutional.

The court’s 2013 ruling reaffirmed the importance of campus diversity in higher education and sent the case back to a lower court. However, in deciding to hear it again, the justices have given opponents of college diversity another shot.

The court should reject the case on the merits, as I argued in a friend-of-the-court brief that I filed in support of the University of Texas in the first case. But there are also several little-known facts about the case that should give us pause.

Fisher is the handiwork of Edward Blum, a former stockbroker who has also orchestrated legal assaults against voting rights – notably in Shelby County v. Holder, in which the Supreme Court gutted a core section of the Voting Rights Act, and Evenwel v. Abbott, the “one-person, one-vote case” the court hears Tuesday.

As part of his campaign against even modest considerations of race in college admissions, Blum spent three years hunting for plaintiffs to sue the University of Texas. Eventually, he settled on Abigail Fisher, the daughter of an old friend of his. Meanwhile, a second plaintiff dropped out while the case was pending in a lower court.

Perhaps Blum had trouble finding suitable plaintiffs because the applicant pool at the University of Texas was so competitive.

Here’s how their admissions process works. First, the university admits all public high school seniors in Texas who graduate in the top 10% of their class. These students constitute the overwhelming majority of the entering class–about 80% the year Fisher applied.

Read more at the New York Times.